TOTD, What is a DBA?

Warning: Personal Soapbox Approaching.

I was reading a newsgroup discussion and the topic of DBAs and their usefulness/trivialization came up (yet again). This topic seems to show up at one time or another on every Oracle discussion board.

Whether I agree or not with any of the things said in the discussion doesn’t really matter. It got me thinking about the topic and I have a different perspective to the question. My personal soapbox on this issue is the definition of DBA. Are DBAs being trivialized in the enterprise? If they are, it’s because the definition of that 3-letter abbreviation has become the garbage can of “all things Oracle”.

First off, what does DBA stand for? Database Analyst? Database Administrator? Dumb Buffoonish Arrogance? Dippy Bippy Aiieee? Ok the last one is just silly, but I think I make my point. heh

Here are a few profound truths of DBAness:

  • Putting the text “DBA” after a name does not impart instant knowledge of all things Oracle
  • Not every DBA can design an application
  • Not every DBA can design a database
  • Not every DBA is happy administering a database
  • Some DBAs ony want to administer the database

All of the above depend on what kind of DBA a person may be.

I can think of three very different kinds of DBAs right off the top of my head:

  • Application Database Analyst – Should be able to do data modeling, application design, interfacing with project teams, etc. This person is concerned with building applications.
  • Production Database Administrator – Guru on troubleshooting, performance guru, security, backup/recovery, etc. This person is concerned with getting the best performance and most reliable service from all production instances.
  • Enterprise Database Analyst – Architecture, Standards, Oracle communications infrastructure and topography (replication, database links, etc), maintaining the overall enterprise architecture including number of production/test/development instances and how they’re used. This person is concerned with the future direction and configuration management of the environment.

In any enterprise setting there will usually be some overlap between any of these. In addition, each of those above can be further split into specialties: data architect, data steward, modeler, application user administration, tuning, etc.

Can a single DBA do it all? Sure. I worked with a DBA when I was in New Orleans who could do all of that and develop applications on the side. Can you imagine having Thomas Kyte as your DBA? That would rock.

Can most people do it all? In my experience, not really and when they try, or when management forces them, they do it all badly.

So where am I going with this? No where really. Just whining. But I do wish the industry would try to standardize on some definitions and job descriptions.

When I see a job ad for DBA, at least half the time, I’m pretty sure they’re either looking for a senior developer, data modeler or an application DBA but they’ll say they need “x years as a production DBA”. A person that is a production DBA probably won’t be good in that position. And the same goes for an application DBA in a production DBA slot. They are completely different goals with completely different skill sets.

And I’m not even going to get into DBAs who are supposed to be the database police, whether through personal inclination or through management direction. Building an antagonistic environment is never a good idea.

I’m not sure how to change the perception that DBA is a single job function that can do everything. But if people who weren’t “inside” the database could really understand just what it is that DBAs do, there would probably be less discussion of DBA trivialization. I guess this boils down, like so many other issues, to communication. Those of us in the industry need to better communicate to those in management and the end user community.

Is this an Oracle phenomenon or is it like this for all databases?

I’ll step down off my soapbox now. How do you define DBA?

Have a great day!


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